Salento sits atop the VALLE DE CÓCORA, which contains a thick forest of the skyscraper wax palm, Colombia’s national plant, which grows up to 60m high. The valley, which offers picturesque hikes, is easily explored in a day-trip from Salento. The hamlet of Cócora, with a handful of restaurants, small shops and hotels, lies 11km east of Salento. From Cócora a well-trodden path leads into misty, pristine cloudforest, scattered with the remains of pre-Columbian tombs and dwellings. Orchids, bromeliads and heliconias are just some of the plant species that thrive here, and the fauna includes spectacled bear, native deer and puma, along with hundreds of bird species such as toucans, eagles and motmots.
A five- to six-hour loop walk starts from the blue gate in Cócora; the muddy track passes a trout farm and runs through farmland for around 45 minutes before reaching the park entrance, after which you’re following an uneven, slippery trail through cloudforest. The trail eventually branches, with one track leading up to the extremely worthwhile Reserva Acaime (entrance COP$3000), home to eighteen species of hummingbirds that flock to its bird feeders. The price includes a large mug of revitalizing hot chocolate and a chunk of locally produced cheese. You then retrace your steps to the main trail that crosses nine rickety wooden Indiana Jones-style bridges over the Río Quindío before the Finca La Montaña branch culminates at a mountain-top viewing platform with exhilarating valley views. The way down along a wide gravel road takes you past a cluster of wax palms – Colombia’s national tree.